Leaving Pets at Home? 16 Tips for Preparing for Pet Care While you Travel

The height of summer travel is upon us and whether you’re heading for a trip to the beach or a wild and wonderful adventure down some rapids, chances are you’re not taking your pets. (Although, if you do want to take them, write me and I’ll send you a copy of my column from last September on tips and hints for traveling with your pet).

When you’re leaving your pets in the care of another there are basic “rules” you both should follow:

1. Reserve your time. You’ll note that many of your neighbors and colleagues travel the same time of year that you do. If you’re hoping your neighbor will watch your cat while you head out of town, confirm that he’ll be in town! Professional companies fill up quickly during busy seasons so you’re wise to reserve your spot for pet-care as soon as you reserve your airfare.

2. Be specific. It’s important that you and your pet-care provider are on the same page. When you say “One scoop of dry in the morning and the evening” make sure your sitter knows which scoop you’re talking about. It’s also a good idea to ensure that the person staying with your five cats “does” litter boxes, otherwise you’re bound to have a huge mess (and possibly strained relationship) when you get home. Other items to specify include: where to dispose of dirty litter, cage liners or doody-bags, how many and what kinds of treats can be distributed, how to use the electronic cat watering machine, the location and instructions for the can opener, which items your bird likes to get into but will do them harm (zippers come to mind), and most importantly what time each day you’d like your visits to occur.

3. Determine liability. No one wants to think about bad things happening, but sometimes they do. Determine now who is liable if your dog bites the neighbor’s child while on a romp in the yard? Or who will pay for the vet bill if your kitty hurts herself while you’re away? There are many different scenarios here, so think them through and discuss your options with your insurance agent before assuming you’re “covered.”

4. Let your sitter know if anyone else is expected in your home during your absence. If your housekeeper comes every Friday, let the sitter know. If you’ve hired an electrician to come in and rewire, again, let the sitter know. Also, ensure that you and your sitter are clear on liability if the electrician unwittingly lets the cat out the front door while he’s unloading his truck.

5. Do you want updates? Let your sitter know how and when you’d like to be updated on your pets’ activities and behavior during your absence. However, be sure your sitter has a number or a way to reach you no matter where you are, in case of an emergency.

6. Leave plenty of food, toys, litter and other supplies. Most folks keep their dry food in special containers – meaning if its running low, the sitter may not be able to find the original bag to determine what brand of food your pet ‘s been eating. It’s a little embarrassing to carry a piece of kibble into a pet supply shop and ask the clerk, “Do you know what kind of food this is?”

7. Provide the name and contact information of a neighbor who has a key to your home. Emergencies happen, and if your sitter is incapacitated for any reason, they’ll want the name of someone who can get to your pets. This is less likely to happen with larger pet-care companies who have a team of sitters who can provide back-up.

8. Keys. Before handing over the spare set to your sitter, test them (the keys, but let the sitter test the keys too.) Also, don’t leave your keys on your property in hidden places for your sitter. This is a huge liability should some criminal see them leaving the key in your hiding spot – what if some less than stellar person watches your sitter “hide” the key and decides to help himself to your possessions?

9. Re-confirm your plans. Make sure you call and confirm your reservation with your pet-sitter at least two days prior to your departure.

10. Agree on a fee. Make sure you and your sitter agree on a fee for the service provided before your departure, this way no one will have bad feelings or unrealistic expectations upon your return.

11. Block off areas of your home to prevent unwanted access. It’s okay to close bedroom doors, or put up baby gates to keep your pets from heading into “unprotected territory.” Because no matter how well trained your furry kids are when you’re home, they are going straight for the comfiest couch while you’re gone. To save angst and frustration, block off areas that are forbidden, and make sure your sitter is aware of the “house rules.”

12. Be honest about your pets’ personalities. The person caring for your pets must have a realistic understanding of your pets’ personality. If your dog is a big barker, make sure you note that, same thing if your cat doesn’t like to be petted. Set your sitter up to succeed and you’ll be pleased with the results.

13. Close off “doggy doors”. While you may be happy to have your pets roam in and out throughout the day while you’re home, your pets’ safety is in jeopardy if you leave that doggy door accessible while you’re gone. Your dog or cat is used to your routine and knows what to expect when he comes in and out. He’s likely worked out a routine around yours. However, when you’re gone, his routine is thrown for the loop. He can become bored and is more likely to pick fights through the fence, or to dig out to follow a scent, a person or an intriguing sight. Both you and your pet sitter want your pets to be at home and healthy when you return from your trip, so keep that doggy door locked and help achieve that goal.

14. Make it easy to access your home. We’ve already discussed keys, but make sure the outdoor lighting works so your sitter can enter your home safely at night and ensure that the walkways and entry ways are clear of debris and clutter.

15. Write down the extras. If you expect that your sitter will bring in the mail and paper and take out the trash, say so. Your sitter is concerned with the health and well-being of your pets and may not think to water your plants unless you ask. Make sure you specify what extra tasks you’d like your sitter to complete and then write them down so you are both in agreement.

16. Call when you get home. Your sitter is concerned about the welfare of your pets and most will continue to come and visit even after your scheduled return home, unless you call and let them know you’ve returned safely.

Following these sixteen steps will ensure that both you and your pet have a relaxing vacation!

Peggie Arvidson-Dailey is the owner of peggiespets.com and the founder of petcareuniversity.com. She’s also the “Pets in the City” Columnist for the Del Ray Sun and has been a guest expert on “This Week in Small Business” on Chamber of Commerce Radio. Her company has been recognized as “Best of the Best” in the DC metro region by The Washingtonian. To get all the tips and hints you want to keep up with your pets,